Masks remain vital for community

Teresa Harrill, Loudon County Health Department director, explains the types of masks and their proper usage.

Health experts are urging residents to wear masks even if they have been vaccinated or see a decrease in active cases.

Since the pandemic began, debates have sparked about masks, their effectiveness and mandates. Dr. Bud Guider, retired pediatrician from Loudon Pediatric Clinic, said masks “prevent coronavirus spread, decrease illness, decrease hospitalizations and decrease deaths.”

Masks protect the wearer and others from COVID-19 and other viruses. If only part of the population is wearing masks, the community isn’t getting the maximum effect, Guider said.

The science of masks is backed by major health institutions like the American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute of Health, Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University and World Health Organization. He said there is “no legitimate opposing argument” for face coverings.

Teresa Harrill, Loudon County Health Department director, agreed with a few exceptions such as people with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Other than those cases, she said there is greater risk associated with not wearing a mask.

“We need to do everything that we can that’s humanly possible to decrease the spread of this terrible virus,” Guider said. “I think that starts at the top. I think it should start nationally. I think it should start with our president, our governor, our county mayors, our board of education. Our leaders need to be good examples.

“People will listen to our leaders,” he added. “If they don’t make these tough decisions — and I’m not saying they’re easy. There will be people who are opposed. There will always be people who are opposed because there’s always another side. But the decision should be made based on what would benefit the health and welfare of our fellow man.”

Guider believes not issuing a mask mandate is “wrong.”

Harrill said the health department has encouraged school boards to issue mandates, but the decision is ultimately up to local leadership.

“Of the counties in the state of Tennessee that had a mask mandate, there were 50% less cases, 50% less hospitalizations and 50% less deaths than the counties that didn’t have a mask mandate,” Guider said. “Think about that. That’s huge. … That’s right here in our backyard.

“… Every geographic contiguous county to Loudon County, every one of them, have school mask mandates,” he added. “Knox County, Roane County, Monroe County, Blount County, Anderson County. … I don’t understand why we don’t.”

Guider worries about Loudon County Schools teachers who may be elderly or have pre-existing conditions.

He also addressed the common opposition to mask mandates regarding constitutionality.

“You hear this other pushback I guess, ‘It violated my personal liberties. It violates my constitutional rights’,” he said. “That’s just not true. The attorney general of the state of Tennessee recently issued a statement, and he said that mask mandates are constitutionally defensible and the Supreme Court of the United States, for more than a century, has recognized that a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of diseases which threatens the safety of its members. Mask mandates are constitutionally defensible and we have the right to do them.”

False sense of security

Availability of vaccinations and decreasing numbers can create a false sense of security in the community.

“The reason that masks are so important is because it’s a protection for you and the other person, because we know this virus is spread through droplets,” Harrill said. “When a person coughs, a person sneezes, a person is singing, laughing, there can be water droplets within the air and within 6 foot.”

She said people who have been vaccinated should still wear masks because research about the virus and the vaccines is limited. Although masks will help with prevention of spreading, there’s no way to be certain to what degree.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, Loudon County had 197 active cases Monday compared to numbers in the 300-400 range months ago. The county has experienced 64 deaths, 5,597 confirmed and probable cases and 5,336 inactive/recovered cases.

Harrill and Guider said even though numbers are down, masks are imperative.

“When people do, after they get vaccinated, it’s a comfort level to a degree,” Harrill said. “… But if I were going out in a crowd, I’m still going to wear my mask. I’m still going to be careful in a social situation because they don’t really know enough about the virus. And then we’ve got these other strands coming in from other countries, so we’re hoping that the vaccine is going to help against that, but we don’t know that yet.”